Tag Archives: history

Seizing the Future in the Balkans

This week the people of Kosovo and Serbia have sadly faced another set of violent incidents where those dedicated to peace have been harmed as a result of Serb mob action, and backward-looking political agendas.  NATO peacekeepers were injured, as were Kosovars and Serbs dedicated to putting an end to hatred and violence.  Estonia, its EU partners, and the U.S. and NATO have all called for the obvious from the Serbian and Kosovar governments:  fully engage in the EU-facilitated dialog process and refrain from precipitous actions, inflamatory rhetoric, and impediments  to freedom of movement.  And obviously, don’t attack KFOR peacekeepers or aid workers.  Pretty clear.

Amazing then that exactly the opposite occurred on September 27 and 28.  A violent Serb mob attacked a NATO-led KFOR unit.  A multi-ethnic group of USAID -supported community workers was similarly attacked.  What is it that the attackers don’t understand?  The U.S.  and Estonia — the EU and NATO — stand united in not allowing a better future for Kosovars and Serbs to be denied.  Their rights to a successful, Europe-integrated tomorrow are paramount.  The narrow and retrograde interests of some will not be satisfied.

As current U.S. Ambassador to Estonia and former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, for me the contrast between a people seizing the future and others being allowed to descend into a dark past is particularly poignant.  Estonians suffered  50 years of occupation — much harsher than anything experienced in the former Yugoslavia prior to the wars of the 1990’s.  Since regaining its independence only 20 years ago, Estonia has remade itself into one of the most successful and progressive countries in Europe, in the EU, in NATO, in the world today.  The long-suffering people of Serbia and Kosovo deserve a chance at similar success.  We cannot let mobs and mob mentality deny them their rightful place in the 21st century among their fellow European and American friends.

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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, good governance, Peace and Security, U.S. -Estonian Relations, U.S. Foreign Relations

A Quiet People With A Powerful Voice

Ever since my arrival as U.S. Ambassador to Estonia on a frosty winter evening in 2009, I have been confronted with the loud volume of the Estonian people’s silence.  For a typically extrovert American, keeping a conversation going in this country can often be challenging.  That is until the American learns the power of Estonian silence and the astounding success and rebirth of freedom in a nation that quietly never gave up on re-independence throughout decades of occupation.  On August 20, 2011, my wife Hallie and I will be joining our Estonian friends in celebrating their 20-year miracle of  success.  Tens of thousands of Estonians will take part in events in Tallinn and throughout the country in what is expected to be the most visible (and even loudest) outpouring of patriotism by the Estonian people in a decade.

At a time of considerable political and economic turbulence throughout Europe and in the United States, it is particularly poignant to celebrate not only Estonia’s existence as a free country, but also its standing as a proud nation in the 21st century.  Emerging today from the most recent world-wide recession, Estonia is almost everything so many other countries today are not.  First of all, Estonia and its government are solvent.  With negligible national debt and an equally insignificant government budget deficit, Estonia is part of a very small group of countries that can lay claim to economic health and positive prospects.  There are of course challenges, including high unemployment, inflation, and unmet demands for better salaries and a social service improvements.  But in comparison to apocalyptic headlines, such as Time Magazine’s most recent cover proclaiming “The Decline and Fall of Europe,” Estonia stands apart.  No one  here believes that Europe is about to fall, and more than 70 percent of Estonians fully support their country’s adoption of the stressed Euro.

Meanwhile, Estonia stands ready with scant complaint to do (and pay) its part to help Europe overcome its ongoing debt crisis.  And for the part of Europe that is still struggling with its democractic, economic, and social development, Estonia has invested both its expertise and resources to help out.  Estonians are also fighting and sacrificing from Afghanstan to the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.  When asked “why does your small country do so much,'”  leaders here are a bit taken aback, explaining that nations and people stood by them during the darkest hours of occupation and its payback time!

Estonians see the problems on their and our side of the Atlantic with traditional stoicism.  Privately, I suspect, they wonder why the rest of us are so slow in implementing to them obvious solutions.  They have seen much worse and not only survived, but excelled.  For Estonians, there are no problems that can’t be surmounted with stubborn commitment to the solutions, no matter how painful they may be.  Their experience, looking at their past, is to live for the future – focussed and most of all – quietly.  I am really looking forward to being quiet tomorrow, together with our wise Estonian friends.

Happy Anniversary Estonia!

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Filed under Civil Society, good governance, Peace and Security, U.S. -Estonian Relations

A New Opportunity for the Serbian People

Serbia’s President Boris Tadic has just announced the arrest of accused war criminal Radko Mladic.  During my time as  U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro and then the Republic of Serbia  from 2004-2007, I did all I could for this day to come.   This is the news that the victims and the families of the victims of the worst autrocities in post-war Europe have been waiting for.  This could also be the break for Serbia’s future that so many of the Serbian people have been waiting for.  During my time in Belgrade, I found most of the Serbian people on the side of justice and for their country to finally be able to move forward.  I reassured them then that the United States wanted to be supportive of a Serbia integrated into the web of Euro-Atlantic relationships.

With Maldic now hopefully being readied for transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, this is also another opportunity for Serbia to take a new approach to its other remaining obstacle to seizing a better tomorrow – its relationship with its neighbor Kosovo.  A positive and constructive relationship with Kosovo that accepts the reality, however unhappily, of Kosovo’s independence, would also allow Serbia at last  to look to the future, rather than the grievances of the past.  For the sake of all my Serbian friends who have waited long enough for a better tomorrow, I hope they are given the chance to seize it now.

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A Candle For The Fallen – Hope For The Future

Yesterday evening, my wife Hallie and I lit  candles together with citizens of Tallinn in commemoration of the March 9, 1944 bombing of the city by the Soviet air force.  As a cold wind blew along Harju Street, we all placed our candles on meter-high wall in front of St. Nicholas Church.  The church, now rebuilt, had been destroyed in the bombing and the resulting fire and more than 600 people lost their lives.  The event was organized by a private Tallinn citizens initiative and significant in its dignity and lack of drama, which made it that much more dramatic.  Estonians remember their often painful past quietly, but with resolve and hope for the future.  The light our candles provided seemed as much to shine for the lives lost as for the bright future course Estonians have set for themselves since regaining their independence.  As Americans, we were honored to join both in the remembrance and the promise of last night’s event.

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